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ESPN ranks Giants 8th in pass rush win rate

Going beyond the box score on the Giants pass rush

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

“New head coach. New offensive and defensive coordinators. A roster choc full of new players. Yet, these looked like the same old New York Giants.”

That was how our own Ed Valentine, who was in attendance for the Giants’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, began his post-game “Kudos and Wet Willies” piece.

And in some ways the first game for the 2020 Giants looked a lot like most of the previous 48 games. The team couldn’t out-play its own mistakes, the quarterback was under duress for most of the game, and they were under water in the turnover differential.

But there was one very important difference: The Giants were fielding a pass rush that was effective and impacted the opposing offense.

For the first time since 2016, the Giants faced a good team with their starting quarterback, and their pass rush left the offense confused and the defense under duress. While the Giants only sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice they still managed to generate the eighth-best pass rush win rate in the NFL, per ESPN and NextGenStats.

Using NextGenStats tracking technology, ESPN calculates that the Giants’ rushers scored a pass rush “win” — that is, beating the opposing blocker in 2.5 seconds or less — on 55.6 percent of their rushes. The Giants’ win rate wasn’t bad a year ago, ranking 17th in the NFL. However, a year ago they only had a 41 percent win rate, and needed to make heavy use of their blitz packages to do so. When rushing four (or fewer) players, the Giants had one of the lowest pass rush win rates in the NFL.

And that’s the big difference in what the Giants did in Week 1. They only blitzed on 7 of Roethlisberger’s 34 drop backs — 20.5 percent, down from 30.4 percent last year, per Pro Football Reference. And when the Giants blitzed Monday Night, they did not fare well. Roethlisberger completed 6 of 7 passes for 13.1 yards per attempt and 2 touchdowns when the Giants sent extra rushers, compared to 15 of 25 for 5.5 yards per attempt with 1 touchdown and 2 sacks when the Giants rushed four or fewer rushers.

Making the Giants’ win rate even more impressive is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was, on average, lightning quick getting rid of the football. His 2.39 second Time To Throw (also per NextGenStats) was the sixth-fastest in the league in Week 1, but Big Ben looked further down the field (5.9 completed air yards, 6.7 intended) than any quarterback to average less than 2.56 seconds to throw.

Interestingly, I’m not sure if you could chalk either of the Giants’ sacks up to a “pass rush win.” While this is an admittedly imprecise method, taking a stopwatch to their game tape, both sacks took more than 3.0 seconds from snap to “win” (which I’m defining as a clear path to the quarterback and not when the quarterback is on the ground). And that does mirror what we saw subjectively in-game. The Giants were able to create pressure with their scheme, usually by disguising looks and creating confusion and one-on-one matchups with players dropping into coverage, or by overloading the right side of the Steelers’ offensive line. That pressure either forced Roethlisberger into making a mistake — such as his desperation toss to Benny Snell on 3rd and 9 to end the Steelers’ second drive. However, Ben, being the big, strong, cagy veteran that he is, was also usually able to find ways of avoiding the sack.

And speaking of avoiding sacks, it would be interesting to see how the pressure rate changed over the course of the game. Based on the (again, admittedly flawed) eye-test, it seemed as though most of the Giants’ pressures came earlier in the game when the Steelers were running a slower, more vertical offense. That changed at the end of the first half and the Steelers seemed to be able to get the Giants’ defense on its heels with an up-tempo attack.

We should remember that while this is a great starting point, it’s also a small sample size. Pass rush win rates will likely fall league-wide in the coming weeks. A year ago the highest season-long win rate was 53 percent (Dallas Cowboys) and only 3 teams posted win rates higher than 50 percent, none of which would have landed in the top-10 from Week 1.

Other notes

There are another few interesting tidbits from Week 1’s Pass Rush Win Rate list.

The first is that the Steelers had, by far, the highest pass rush win rate, which we should have expected just from watching the game. Pittsburgh dominated the Giants’ offensive line all night, to which their 66.7 percent pass rush win rate and Saquon Barkley’s 0.4 yards per carry can attest.

The Steelers also had a sky-high blitz percentage, sending extra rushers on 61 percent of Daniel Jones’ dropbacks. Pittsburgh’s blitzes were very effective, with Jones’ completion percentage dropping to 56.5 percent for 5.8 yards per attempt, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and 3 sacks (per Pro Football Reference).

Also interestingly, the Washington Football Team only ranked 26th in PRWR despite coming up with 8 sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles. Without studying the game, it’s difficult to explain the discrepancy there. One clue could be in Pro Football Reference recording that Carson Wentz threw 10 play-action passes over the course of the game. DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor saw a combined 11 targets with an average depth of target 30.6 and 34.0 yards, respectively, and those deep routes likely came on play-action passes. At the same time, NextGenStats recorded Wentz’s time to throw at 2.61 seconds, which is hardly a slow, plodding offense. My intuition is that most of Wentz’s passes were quick, not giving Washington’s pass rushers time to even record wins, but when he did hold the ball, Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young, and Montez Sweat were more than a match for the Eagles’ offensive line.